PHILADELPHIA -- Everybody understood the stakes by 1980.
The Phillies needed to win the World Series or the front office planned to pull the plug and rebuild.
“It was more or less told to us,” Larry Bowa recalled a few years ago.
The front office believed its players had enough chances to win. The Phillies won the National League East three consecutive seasons from 1976-78, but failed to advance to the World Series each time. They flopped in 1979, despite signing Pete Rose in the offseason. They were 65-67 in late August, when general manager Paul Owens fired player-friendly skipper Danny Ozark and replaced him with Dallas Green, who came to kick butt. The Phillies finished 19-11, but 84-78 overall and fourth in the division.
Green shed the interim title and returned the following spring. Not everybody wanted him there. Based on his remarks when camp opened, he did not care.
“You were one of the poorest teams in the Majors last year,” he told players before their first workout in Clearwater, Fla., according to a story in Sports Illustrated.
“Paul became concerned about Danny’s reluctance to maintain a steady hold on the team,” Green told SI. “It became evident we weren’t drilled in fundamentals or physically prepared to overcome injuries. We were a lethargic, non-caring team, just going through the motions. The ballclub was ripe for Dallas Green.”
Green posted a polarizing sign in the clubhouse. It read: “We Not I.”
More than a few players bristled at it, especially because Green had no problem ripping them to reporters.
It’s “we” until the players screw up. Then it’s “they.”
The season opened April 11 with a 6-3 victory over the Expos at Veterans Stadium, but the Phillies never jelled. They battled injuries. They weathered a drug scandal in July. Green had a profanity-laden team meeting between games of a doubleheader on Aug. 10 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. The players called a players-only meeting the next day in Chicago. The message: “Forget Dallas and his coaching staff. Let’s win for ourselves.”
Owens then ripped the players at his own team meeting on Sept. 1.
The Phillies went 36-20 following Green’s blowup, 36-19 after the players-only meeting and 23-11 after Owens’ chat.
It is easy to say that one, some or all the meetings sparked the Phillies down the stretch. Or maybe they just started to play better because they had a ton of talent. After all, they had Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, Bob Boone, Manny Trillo, Tug McGraw, Bake McBride, Bowa and more.
The Phillies clinched the division on the second-to-last day of the season in Montreal. They beat the Astros in one of the most exciting League Championship Series in history. The Phillies won Game 1 of the best-of-five NLCS at Veterans Stadium. Houston won Game 2 in 10 innings. The series moved to Houston and the Astros won Game 3 in 11 innings at the Astrodome. The Phillies won Game 4 in 10 innings to even the series.
Would the Phillies lose their fourth NLCS in five years? They trailed Game 5 in the eighth inning, 5-2. Astros ace Nolan Ryan was dealing. It seemed like he never lost a lead that late.
But Bowa singled and Boone hit the next pitch off Ryan’s glove to put runners on first and second. Greg Gross bunted the next pitch up the third-base line for a hit to load the bases. Rose walked to score a run. Poof, Ryan was gone. Two more runs scored to tie the game. Trillo’s two-run triple handed the Phillies a 7-5 lead. McGraw blew the lead in the bottom of the eighth to retie it, but Del Unser and Maddox each doubled in the 10th to score a run to win it.
“It was like somebody put a pin in a balloon,” Bowa said in the book “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Philadelphia Phillies." “I’m not going to lie to you, that Houston series -- and in that dome you couldn’t hear anything -- I mean, it was pressure. To win that, I exhaled. I said, ‘We got here.’”
Before the Phillies even played the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, they felt like they had won. All those failed trips to the NLCS were behind them. The pressure was off.
“The script was in,” Boone said in the book “They Can’t Lose ‘Em All." “We win. We knew we had to go through a lot to get here. But we knew what the ending was.”
Boone was right. The Phillies had a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning in Game 6 at Veterans Stadium. They needed just three more outs to win their first championship in franchise history. Schmidt was confident they would win. In fact, on his drive to the ballpark that afternoon with McGraw, Schmidt asked the lefty closer to wait for him on the mound so he could jump on him and make the celebratory photo.
McGraw was completely out of gas when he stepped on the mound in the ninth. He struck out Amos Otis for the first out, but walked Willie Aikens. He then allowed singles to John Wathan and Jose Cardenal to load the bases. But McGraw got Frank White to pop out in foul territory, with the ball popping out of Boone’s mitt only to be snared by Rose.
A confident Rose spiked the ball into the turf.
Only Willie Wilson separated the Phillies from history. McGraw struck him out swinging on a 1-2 fastball. McGraw raised his arms in triumph. Schmidt jumped on him. He made the photo.
It was 11:29 p.m. ET on Oct. 21. The Phillies and the city partied deep into the morning.
“People talk about the Phillies winning the World Series like it was some spiritual event,” McGraw said. “Well, it was a physical one, too. It grabbed fans, grabbed them deep inside.”
The Phillies had a parade the next day down Broad Street. It seemed like everybody in the Delaware Valley was there.
“Let me tell you something,” Rose said in the book “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Philadelphia Phillies History." “The most awesome sight I’ve ever seen in sports -- and this is Pete Rose talking -- was the post-World Series parade. To see a million people in the street on Broad Street and to have 130,000 people for us at JFK Stadium, it was unbelievable. It’s a sight I’ll never forget. Yeah, that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.”